Cape Town’s inspirational Design Indaba conference doesn’t just host a great selection of speakers each year, but also encompasses a design expo that showcases some of the most exciting high-end contemporary African design. From furniture to prints and leather accessories, the expo has a wide selection of products—and reveals the depth and breadth of current South African design. The “Emerging Creatives” project, which has been held at the Expo since 2005, features 40 young designers and really puts the spotlight on new talent coming out of South Africa today. Below are the designers that grabbed our attention at the expo this year.
Maweni, Mbele and Nqakaza images by Cajsa Carlson, all others courtesy of the designers
Furniture design company De Steyl is based on South Africa’s picturesque Garden Route and owned by Deánne Viljoen, a former architect turned furniture designer. At the Indaba Expo, De Steyl showed the latest addition to the company’s playful, graphic Play Pattern collection. A smart modular range that lets you mix and match a number of drawers that can be stapled onto each other, this collection was designed by Viljoen. The prints were created by Renée Rossouw of pattern lab RR Studio, whose work we were introduced to at last year’s expo. Her graphic print is a sleek, modern take on South African traditional patterns and a nod to the country’s many cultural influences.
Local Cape Town designer Chuma Maweni, of ceramics center Art in the Forest, has been making his current products for about 12 years, but has been designing since childhood. The unusual black-and-white and “cracked” patterns on his vases and bowls are created through the use of a modified version of the Japanese Raku technique—Maweni covers part of the vase in the kiln to create the graphic two-tone effect. We loved his almost solid-looking, heavy, teardrop-shaped vases in black and white.
Started in 2011 by husband and wife Chad and Erin-Lee Petersen, Research Unit began as a hobby for journalist Erin-Lee, who designed the products using leather off-cuts. Fast-forward four years and Research Unit has grown to a full-fledged business, selling beautiful handcrafted wallets, cardholders, backpacks, folios and clutches. The wallets are made from soft goatskin and the products are hand-dyed, with leather sourced from sustainable tanneries. The products combine an urban aesthetic with local South African craftsmanship for striking, simple designs. Plus the pieces often have smart details—like the detachable laptop bag inside the RU Scout backpack. Research Unit's online store delivers globally and the brand will be opening a brick-and-mortar location in Berlin this May.
The first of four Emerging Creatives to catch our eye, University of Cape Town graduate Matthew Bradley's work is humorous and showcases his illustration skills. Bradley presented both posters and tote bags, but our favorite products were his patches. With slogans like “Get Lucky” and “Worship Suntan,” they give the counter-culture classic a fun twist and convey a laid-back, beach vibe. Bradley sells his colorful work, which he calls "mental notes on his surroundings and experiences," online.
At the expo, Ntsindiso Nqakaza showed some of the designs he created at Cape Town's Ruth Prowse School of Art, where he studied graphic design. The designer’s wallpapers for Robin Sprong are decorated with stylized huts and animals. They were inspired by traditional African languages of symbols, and Nqakaza, who named his designs “Africanage Language”, told us he likes the fact that the designs are open to interpretation. As well as the colorful wallpapers, Nqakaza also showed a collection of crockery decorated with graphic patterns, with a slightly retro feel.
By far the most accomplished fashion brand of those showing at the expo, Johannesburg-based Oath was started just ten months ago by designer Rich Mnisi, who was named AFI Young Designer of the Year in 2014 at Mercedes-Benz Fashion Week Africa. The label is inspired by pop culture, art and music as well as nature, merging the influences together for a progressive aesthetic. With all clothes produced and sourced in Cape Town, Oath is the perfect example the country's high creative energy and potential. The collection’s clean, almost sportswear-like simple cuts, juxtaposed with intricate, abstract prints, gave it a luxurious, yet casual feel.
Combining practical solutions with intelligent design, interior designer Siyanda Mbele’s stackable tables feature colored legs that can be easily swapped and mixed. The Durban-made products look hyper-modern, but also incorporate traditional Ndebele, Venda and Zulu patterns, which decorate the tabletops and influence the shape of the tables’ legs. A continuation on a theme that Mbele has played with before, the new products were inspired by a bespoke table he had previously made. Mbele owns and runs the Pinda company, which makes hand-painted furniture.